Police detained more than 5000 people across Russia as anger grows about the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Defying government warnings, thousands of protesters rallied from Vladivostok to St Petersburg in a second weekend of mass demonstrations over the arrest of the prominent opponent to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Protesters chanted, “Putin is a thief,” as they marched through the streets of Moscow.
Mr Navalny’s wife Yulia was among those arrested.
Mr Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in mid-January after flying back to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from an August poisoning which he blames on the Kremlin.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is being held in a Moscow detention centre and faces years of potential jail time in several different criminal cases, despite calls from Western governments for his release.
In moves not seen for years in Moscow, authorities locked down the centre of the capital on Sunday, with hundreds of police lining the streets, central Metro stations closed and restrictions on the movements of pedestrians.
Protesters, who had hoped to gather outside the headquarters of the FSB security service, were instead scattered to various parts of the city as organisers made last-minute changes in locations.
AFP journalists saw dozens of protesters detained and taken away in police vans.
RELATED: Video shows how Navalny was poisoned
Several thousand people also demonstrated in the city of St Petersburg, despite police closing off the main thoroughfare Nevsky Prospekt and shutting Metro stations, an AFP journalist reported.
Police were seen roughly detaining several protesters, including one young man who was left with a bloodied head.
Earlier, protesters had rallied in cities including the Pacific port of Vladivostok, where dozens escaped the police on the frozen waters of the Amur Bay and danced in a circle.
Several thousand were also reported to have protested in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk despite temperatures dropping to -20C.
‘HARSH TACTICS’ CONDEMNED
Several thousand people were seen marching throughout the city centre, but it was unclear amid the chaos how many took part in the demonstration.
Independent monitor OVD-Info said at least 5100 people had been detained across the country, after reporting more than 4000 detentions during similar protests on January 23.
It said at least 1653 were detained in Moscow and 1159 in Saint Petersburg, as well as 82 journalists across the country.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Twitter condemned “the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight”.
The Russian foreign ministry hit back, accusing the US of “gross interference” in its affairs and of using “online platforms controlled by Washington” to promote the protests.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also said he deplored the “widespread detentions and disproportionate use of force” against protesters and journalists.
“Russia needs to comply with its international commitments,” he added in a tweet.
Protesters chanted “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief!” as they marched through Moscow, braving bitter cold and snow.
Several hundred protesters eventually gathered outside the Matrosskaya Tishina prison where Mr Navalny is being held. Dozens were detained outside the complex.
“It’s almost embarrassing that the state is so afraid of us,” 31-year-old protester Elisaveta Dementieva told AFP at the Moscow demonstration.
GOLDEN TOILET BRUSHES
Many protesters carried gold-painted toilet brushes in reference to a video released by Mr Navalny’s team alleging that Mr Putin had been gifted a $1.8 billion property on the Black Sea coast, which among other luxurious goods featured toilet brushes costing €700 ($A1100) apiece.
As night fell in Moscow, protesters began to head home, with some wondering whether the demonstration would have any impact.
“It’s true we are asking ourselves if these protests will really do any good,” said Nadia, a 21-year-old student. “It will take more for Navalny to be freed. And even more for Russia to be free.”
NAVALNY’S WIFE DETAINED
Russian authorities issued several warnings against participating in the unauthorised rallies and threatened criminal charges against protesters.
Russian Human Rights Council chairman Valery Fadeyev called Sunday’s events a “provocation” and said they have “nothing to do with protecting rights”, news agency TASS reported.
Mr Navalny is due in court several times next week, including on Tuesday on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence.
His team has called for supporters to gather outside the courtroom.
Mr Navalny’s wife Yulia posted a picture of her family on Instagram on Sunday, urging supporters to make their voices heard.
“If we remain silent, then tomorrow they will come for any one of us,” she wrote.
Mr Navalny’s team said Yulia was detained by police shortly after she announced her arrival at Sunday’s rally on social media.